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- 10/04/17--12:05: _I’m 66 and I just l...
- 10/04/17--16:01: _Judge lets Presiden...
- 10/04/17--18:26: _Twitter chat: Ameri...
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- 10/05/17--04:05: _U.S. endured a reco...
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- 10/05/17--06:18: _WATCH: Former Equif...
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- 10/05/17--08:46: _Did Las Vegas gunma...
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- 10/05/17--12:08: _NRA says it’s open ...
- 10/05/17--12:35: _How treating opioid...
- 10/05/17--13:00: _Poll: Most American...
- 10/05/17--13:04: _Kazuo Ishiguro wins...
- 10/05/17--13:26: _GOP Rep. Murphy res...
- 10/05/17--13:33: _‘Boosting’ to suppo...
- 10/04/17--16:01: Judge lets President Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Arpaio stand
- 10/05/17--03:34: Senior Republicans weigh bump stock ban after Las Vegas shooting
- 10/05/17--04:05: U.S. endured a record fire season. What could be done differently?
- 10/05/17--06:56: WATCH LIVE: Members of Congress to address DACA
- 10/05/17--08:46: Did Las Vegas gunman target other music festivals?
- 10/05/17--12:08: NRA says it’s open to regulation of bump stocks
- 10/05/17--13:04: Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize for Literature
- 10/05/17--13:26: GOP Rep. Murphy resigning after reports of affair, Ryan says
- 10/05/17--13:33: ‘Boosting’ to support her habit — one woman’s nightmare
Leaders in Catalonia say voters in the northeast region of Spain overwhelmingly cast ballots for independence from Spain in a Sunday referendum. But the country’s central government won’t recognize the vote, calling it illegal.
Now, the president of the region, which includes Barcelona, says he will declare independence from Spain, anyway. As protests over the vote continue, here’s a look at what’s happening and what’s next.
What is Catalonia?
Catalonia is an autonomous region in northeastern Spain known for its beach resorts. It’s also the birthplace of Salvador Dali. The prosperous community, with a population of about 7.5 million, has its own language and culture. Barcelona is its capital.
Catalonia has its own parliament and police force, but national bodies oversee areas of security such as ports, airports, custom offices and immigration control. The judicial system also is administered nationally.
Why is the region seeking independence?
Catalonia has long sought independence, but the most recent push began in 2010, when a constitutional court overturned an agreement giving it more autonomy, part of an effort by the central government to tighten its fiscal belt during the global economic downturn, Duke University associate professor of political science Pablo Beramendi said in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Zachary Laub.
“Spain was in the midst of a major economic crisis and Madrid was forcing the Catalan government to implement draconian caps on education and health, especially after the conservative victory in November 2011, while accusing them of mismanagement,” Beramendi said.
What happened in Sunday’s vote?
While Catalonia had scheduled an independence referendum Sunday, it was not considered a legal vote by the central Spanish government. Police were dispatched in an effort to shut it down. They arrested Catalan officials involved in organizing the referendum, confiscated ballots, and reportedly used rubber bullets on voters and roughly pulled others from polling sites.
“If people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law,” Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told the Associated Press.
Sunday’s referendum to become a sovereign state was Catalonia’s second in three years. In the last referendum in November 2014, 80 percent voted to secede. Last weekend, officials say 90 percent voted to leave Spain, though those results could not be independently verified.
Although most Catalans reportedly wanted a vote to be held, they are divided on whether to leave Spain.
The large pro-independence vote could actually be a sign that many didn’t want to vote in a referendum that the Spanish government deemed illegal, said Sebastian. About 2.26 million of Catalonia’s 5.34 million voters (42.3 percent) voted Sunday, according to Reuters.
“We need to take the results with a pinch of salt,” because the conditions for a fair referendum were not there, Sebastian said.
Is the referendum binding?
No. Spain’s Constitutional Court prohibited the referendum, ruling that it violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which says the country cannot break apart.
Why vote “yes”?
Catalonia regional President Charles Puigdemont, who has lead the charge for independence, and his supporters believe Catalonia has put more into Spain than it has gotten in return and should be able to determine its own future.
Catalonia has always had a sense of community, but a nationalist sentiment has grown in the past few years following the financial crisis, Sebastian said. People started to blame the central government for their problems and wanted more fiscal autonomy, she said.
The central government for its part didn’t engage enough politically with Catalonia or explain why it should stay part of Spain, she said. If it had, “maybe we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Why vote “no”?
Some Catalans like Javier Castellanos don’t want to stay with Spain necessarily, but voted “no” on Sunday’s non-binding measure, because they would rather vote “yes” on a legal and binding referendum, he said in an interview with NPR.
“[Independence proponents] say that everything is going to be fine, that we’re going to be richer, we’re going to be freer,” he said. “But there is little evidence that things are going to change significantly for Catalonian people.”
He also said leaving Spain could weaken the economy because Catalonia would no longer be a member of the European Union.
What happens now?
Puigdemont first called for mediation to end the political dispute with Madrid. “We don’t want a traumatic break. … We want a new understanding with the Spanish state,” he said.
But on Tuesday, Puigdemont told the BBC that his region’s separation from Spain would come “in a matter of days.”
A Catalonian legislator tweeted that the region planned to declare independence this coming Monday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he wants to work with other parties in the government to come up with a solution to the “pro-independence challenge” in Catalonia.
The Catalan government still considers the vote a win and will use the images of the national police trying to prevent them from voting to its advantage, said Sebastian. “But the reality is that I just don’t think it’s going to change anything, at least internationally.” Most countries support the Spanish government and consider the Catalonia matter an internal one.
In a statement, the European Commission said the vote wasn’t legal. “As (European Commission) President (Jean-Claude) Juncker has reiterated repeatedly, this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.”
“My only hope is that because of the confrontation and escalation of conflict, both sides will take a step back and try to find a political solution to the situation,” Sebastian said.
The post What happened with Catalonia’s vote for independence — and what’s next appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
LAS VEGAS — President Donald Trump met privately with victims of the Las Vegas shooting at a hospital Wednesday after he touched down in a city still reeling from the worst gun massacre in modern U.S. history.
Trump is expected to speak this afternoon. Watch live in the player above.
Air Force One landed at the airport near the famed Las Vegas strip on a bright, sunny morning just days after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fire on people at an outdoor country music festival below. The Sunday night rampage killed at least 59 people and injured 527, some from gunfire and some from a chaotic escape.
“It’s a very sad thing. We are going to pay our respects and to see the police who have done really a fantastic job in a very short time,” Trump told reporters before departing the White House. He said that authorities were “learning a lot more” about the shooter, Stephen Craig Paddock, and that more details would be “announced at an appropriate time.”
“It’s a very, very sad day for me personally,” he said.
PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.
The post WATCH LIVE: Trump to speak after meeting with victims, first responders in Las Vegas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.
Michael – Pa.: I just reached my full retirement age of 66; my wife is 62. We need to apply for Social Security benefits right now because I’ve just lost my job. My wife’s current benefits would be about $500 and mine about $2,400. If she applied for spousal benefits instead of her benefits, would we see higher monthly benefits?
Phil Moeller: I’m sorry about your job loss, and I understand that you really need the money now. Because your wife’s benefit is so small, I’d suggest that you file for your own benefit first. This will enable her to file for a spousal benefit right away. It will be reduced from what she’d get if she waited to file until her full retirement age, but it will still be larger than her own retirement benefit. Unfortunately, 2015 changes to Social Security laws make it impossible for her to file for a spousal benefit without also filing at the same time for her own retirement benefit. She will get nothing from that benefit, because it’s smaller than her spousal benefit.
By the way, if you decide to look for a new job and are successful, you may have some options about Social Security. The cleanest choice would be to withdraw from the program and pay back the benefits you’ve already received. This option is good for up to a year after you began receiving benefits. I know it might be hard to come up with those funds, but doing do would permit you to “reset” your benefit entitlements and thus increase your benefits by deferring them to a later filing date.
You also could suspend your benefits. This would avoid the need to repay any past benefits to Social Security, and it would allow you to earn delayed retirement credits until the time you unsuspended. However, under those 2015 law changes. your wife would no longer be able to receive her spousal benefit if you suspended your own benefit. In that event, suspending your benefit might no longer be attractive. You can run the numbers to decide.
Neil: My wife is 67 and became Medicare-eligible two years ago. She has no recent work record, no quarters of credit (in the last 30 years) and no retirement benefits. And she has been paying more than $400 a month for Part A. I turned 62 a few months ago, have sufficient quarters for benefits, still work, and have not yet filed for Social Security benefits.
I believe that since I’m now 62 and eligible for retirement benefits, although not claiming them, my wife should now be able to get Medicare Part A at no cost by claiming on my record. Yes? (I know she had to pay Part A premiums after her 65th birthday and before I turned 62). I’ve been told this is the case, but the Medicare representatives my wife has spoken with don’t seem to know this and we can’t (yet) seem to get her Part A premiums eliminated.
Phil Moeller: Your understanding is correct. Here is a formal explanation of this rule. Social Security handles Medicare enrollments and premiums. I suggest you call Social Security, and not Medicare, and try to get this worked out. Hopefully, citing this rule will help, should the representative not be familiar with it.
Linda – Fla.: I have always been told that I didn’t qualify for Social Security since I worked for the state college system in Massachusetts and paid into the state retirement system instead of Social Security. I retired at age 55 and began collecting my pension along with health insurance through the state system. Annually, I received a notice from Social Security that I didn’t qualify for Social Security or Medicare. I was never told that I would be covered by Medicare as my husband’s spouse once he turned 65, so I didn’t apply, and continued to participate in the state program. Years later, the discrepancy was caught by Social Security, and I signed up. But I am being charged an extra $40 a month because I failed to sign up earlier! However, for some reason, I am now receiving a small Social Security payment of $40 each month! I am confused.
Phil Moeller: Wow. What a mess!
In the real world in which we all live, you might be better off letting sleeping dogs lie, as the old saying goes. After all, your mystery payment of $40 a month cancels out the $40 late-enrollment penalty that you think you’re being unfairly charged. Once you formally engage Social Security in evaluating your situation, who knows how badly things could fall off the rails! This is an overworked agency that makes mistakes even on good days.
If it matters, your spousal eligibility for Medicare, and thus for premium-free Part A of Medicare, began when your husband turned 62, not 65. If you were out any money because you did not sign up for Medicare when he turned 62, you might be able to appeal this to Social Security. It would help if you had some of those old notices where the agency said you were not eligible for premium-free Part A. This was true as far as your own earnings record was concerned, but not true when your spousal eligibility was taken into account.
Lastly, for what it’s worth, there is no test for Part B eligibility other than being a legal resident of the U.S. for five years. However, because people need Part A to qualify for most private Medicare policies, they think of that requirement as affecting their overall eligibility for Medicare.
Lisa – Okla.: I will turn 60 in October and am planning my retirement details. My husband of 32 years received full disability at 58 and died at age 63 (five years ago). I visited a Social Security office last summer. I was told the most I could receive would be my own retirement benefit, because my benefit would be more than half of what his benefit had been. After reading your Social Security book, this seems like a spousal benefit and not a widow’s benefit. I had thought I could take my own benefit early at a reduced rate, then transfer to his when I reached full retirement age. It’s all very confusing!
Phil Moeller: You are right on both counts – your understanding is correct and it is all very confusing! Your survivor benefit is not half of his but all of his. I’m gathering from your note that this will be greater than yours, so I’d advise you to take your own benefit as soon as you can, which is age 62. Then, when you reach your full retirement age, you would apply for your survivor benefit, which will have reached its maximum amount at that time.
If you will be 60 this fall, it means you were born in 1957, and that your full retirement age is 66 years and six months. When you file for your survivor benefit, you should receive an additional payment each month equal to the amount by which that benefit exceeds your own retirement benefit.
Make it clear when you file for your own retirement benefit that you are filing only for that benefit, and that you will file for your survivor benefit when you have reached your full retirement age.
Anonymous – Mich.: I’m 63 and retired, but still have health insurance through my employer. At what point do I file for the Medicare coverage? I’ve heard six months prior to reaching 65 but I want to be sure.
Phil Moeller: You need to find out from your former employer what happens to your health coverage when you turn 65. Most employer retiree health plans require people to get Medicare when they turn 65. At that time, Medicare becomes the primary insurer and the employer plan becomes secondary, and can help pay claims that Medicare does not fully cover. If this is the case, you will have a seven-month initial enrollment period that begins three months before your birthday, and includes your birthday month and the following three months.
I urge people to sign up early during this period, and thus make sure they have no break in their primary health insurance coverage. These are things you can confirm with the employer plan.
Brandi – Fla.: Twice in the last two years my 80-year-old father (with Alzheimer’s) has mysteriously had his Medicare switched from an all-expenses-paid plan (including prescriptions) to the PPO Florida Blue plan. Florida Blue says Medicare made the switch, and Medicare says that Florida Blue made the switch!
Who in their right mind would switch a man with a monthly income of less than $1,200 from a free plan to one with a $53 monthly premium and co-pays? And this has happened TWICE! He didn’t sign up for it, and as his legal power of attorney, I didn’t sign up for it either.
Meanwhile the medical bills are in the thousands, and he has been denied some medical care that Medicare would have covered. I haven’t paid these premiums, and he doesn’t even know what premiums are at this point. I don’t feel we should have to pay a dime (although he paid some medical bills and prescriptions before I caught on). Does this happen to anyone else? Don’t they need a signature? If they can’t prove we signed up then how can we be held accountable?
Phil Moeller: Fair or not, in some circumstances, Medicare health plans do have the authority to assign people to a plan without their permission, although it’s my understanding that they have a legal responsibility to tell them this is happening.
Having said this, I do not know if this is what has happened. It sounds like your father is on Medicaid as well as Medicare. Because Medicaid eligibility and related rules are affected by state rules, I would not hazard a guess as to what has been going on with your father’s coverage.
There are a couple of Medicare nonprofits that sometimes help people with these kinds of problems. It’s their call whether to try and help or not. The two I have in mind are the Medicare Rights Center and the Center for Medicare Advocacy. I hope one of them can help you. And please let me know how things turn out for your father. Perhaps you can learn things that will help others as well as him.
The post I’m 66 and I just lost my job. How do we maximize our Social Security? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
PHOENIX — President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s conviction for disobeying a court order in an immigration case will stand after a judge on Wednesday rejected arguments that it would encourage government officials to flout similar judicial commands in the future.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent in formally dismissing the criminal case against the former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix known for his harsh treatment of inmates and immigration enforcement crackdowns.
She held off on ruling on Arpaio’s request to throw out all orders in the case, including a blistering 14-page ruling in which the judge explained her original reasoning in finding that Arpaio was guilty of a crime.
“I have concluded the pardon is valid,” Bolton said.
The hearing Wednesday came five weeks after Trump pardoned Arpaio’s conviction for intentionally defying a 2011 court order to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.
The former sheriff, who didn’t attend Wednesday’s hearing in federal court, was accused of continuing the patrols for 17 months so that he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in a bid to boost his successful 2012 re-election campaign.
Arpaio, who endorsed Trump and appeared alongside him at rallies during the 2016 campaign, has acknowledged prolonging the patrols, but insisted his disobedience wasn’t intentional and blamed one of his former attorneys for not adequately explaining the order’s importance.
Critics say the Aug. 25 pardon removed the last chance at holding Arpaio legally accountable for a long history of misconduct, including a 2013 civil verdict in which Arpaio’s officers were found to have racially profiled Latinos in the sheriff’s immigration patrols. The order that Arpaio acknowledged violating was issued by U.S. District Murray Snow in the profiling case.
Prosecutor John Keller said it was appropriate to dismiss the case against Arpaio.
“This prosecution is over,” Keller said. “The defendant will never be held accountable for his contempt of Judge Snow’s injunction.”
Bolton has previously said case law suggests a pardon doesn’t erase a recipient’s underlying record of conviction and instead is aimed at lessening or canceling punishment. The pardon had previously led the judge to cancel Arpaio’s sentencing hearing.
The judge is considering a request from Arpaio to throw out the ruling that explains his guilty verdict. In the ruling, Bolton cited television interviews and news releases in which the sheriff made comments about keeping up the patrols, even though he knew they were no longer allowed.
Arpaio’s attorneys have said the requests are aimed at clearing Arpaio’s name and barring the ruling’s use in future court cases as an example of a prior bad act. “This is a matter of basic fairness,” said Arpaio attorney Jack Wilenchik.
Lawyers who won the racial profiling verdict against Arpaio had argued earlier that the decision explaining the guilty verdict should remain intact to serve as a rebuke of the sheriff’s actions and as a deterrent to other politicians who might want to disobey a judge’s orders.
Several legal advocacy groups had requested that the pardon be declared invalid or unconstitutional, arguing that letting it stand would encourage future violations of court orders. More than 30 Democrats in Congress also had asked Bolton to declare the pardon invalid and move forward with sentencing, saying the clemency is an encroachment by Trump on the power and independence of the courts.
Since the pardon, Arpaio has said he did nothing wrong, criticized Bolton as biased and called the offense behind his conviction a “petty crime.” Arpaio, who was defeated last year in the same election that sent Trump to the White House, is now talking about getting back into politics.
The post Judge lets President Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Arpaio stand appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
A recent PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that Americans consider opioid addiction a “serious and growing” problem. And they don’t foresee the crisis improving without intervention.
The poll, released in partnership with the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, also showed Americans are largely split on who is to blame for the epidemic — the government, the healthcare field or pharmaceutical companies — and are even less sure who should be responsible for solving the crisis. They all did agree, however, that Congress and President Donald Trump aren’t doing enough to fix the problem.
To discuss additional poll findings as well as how this insight can be used to help end the addiction crisis, the PBS NewsHour hosted a Twitter chat at 1 p.m. ET Oct. 5 with NewsHour’s data producer Laura Santhanam (@laurasanthanam), Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion Dr. Lee Miringoff (@LeeMiringoff ), and Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management (@andrewkolodny).
Find the rest of our America Addicted series, which examines the opioid crisis, here.
Check out a recap of the conversation here —
The post Twitter chat: Americans are pessimistic about the opioid crisis. What does that mean for a solution? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Senior congressional Republicans say they are open to considering legislation banning “bump stocks” like the shooter in Las Vegas apparently used to make semi-automatic rifles perform more like fully automatic weapons.
The comments from lawmakers including the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, marked a surprising departure from GOP lawmakers’ general antipathy to gun regulations of any kind. But they were far from a guarantee of a path forward for the new legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., especially with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan making clear their priorities are elsewhere.
“If somebody can essentially convert a semi-automatic weapon by buying one of these and utilizing it and cause the kind of mayhem and mass casualties that we saw in Las Vegas, that’s something of obvious concern that we ought to explore,” Cornyn told reporters.
“I own a lot of guns and as a hunter and sportsman I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock and that’s another reason to have a hearing.”
Cornyn later said he’d spoken with Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, and that Grassley was interested in convening a hearing.
The devices, known as “bump stocks” among other names, are legal and originally were intended to help people with limited hand mobility fire a semi-automatic without the individual trigger pulls required. They can fit over the rear shoulder-stock assembly on a semi-automatic rifle and with applied pressure cause the weapon to fire continuously, increasing the rate from between 45 and 60 rounds per minute to between 400 and 800 rounds per minute, according to Feinstein’s office.
The government gave its seal of approval to selling the devices in 2010 after concluding that they did not violate federal law.
Feinstein has a career-long history on the issue of guns after becoming mayor in San Francisco after her predecessor was gunned down. She authored an assault weapons ban that was in place for a decade before expiring in 2004, and said she had been considering trying to reintroduce that more sweeping legislation, as she’s done unsuccessfully after past mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged her to go with a narrower bill that might be likelier to draw support.
Feinstein pleaded with the public to pressure Congress to consider her legislation after the horrific violence earlier this week when a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds at an outdoor concert that she said her own daughter had considered attending.
“Mr. and Mrs. America, you have to stand up, you have to say ‘enough is enough,'” Feinstein said. “Why can’t we keep a weapon from becoming a military-grade weapon?”
The National Rifle Association, which has played a major role in exerting political pressure against gun curbs, did not respond to inquiries about its stance on Feinstein’s bill.
At least one Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said outright he was prepared to vote to ban “bump stocks.” ”I have no problem in banning those,” he said.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican senator, said, “I’m interested in finding out more about bump stocks and I’ve got my staff looking into that and I know there are other members interested in finding out more about it as well.”
Even so, asked Tuesday about “bump stocks” and whether they should be legal, McConnell, R-Ky., said it was not an appropriate time to be discussing legislation.
Ryan, R-Wis., made similar comments Wednesday in a radio interview on WISN in Milwaukee.
“What I don’t think you want your government to do is to lurch toward reactions before even having all the facts,” Ryan said. “Bad people are going to do bad things.”
In the House, meanwhile, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced a bill to ban the manufacture, possession, transfer, sale or importation of bump stocks. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose district includes the site of Sunday night’s rampage, said: “The victims and families in Las Vegas don’t need an explanation about the difference between machine guns and firearms with bump stocks. They need action.”
Congress’ recent history gives little cause to think Republicans would take any action on guns. Even after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting where schoolchildren were slaughtered, Feinstein’s reintroduced assault weapons ban went nowhere, and bipartisan background check legislation by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania fell short on the Senate floor.
Last year, after the mass shooting at a dance club in Orlando, Florida, Democrats commandeered the House floor to protest GOP inaction on guns, but while garnering headlines the tactic did not yield results. Shooting incidents involving lawmakers themselves, like at a baseball practice earlier this year where Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured, have not changed the calculus.
Feinstein held out hope that this time would be different because of the scale of casualties and the weaponry “taking it into war.” And Manchin said that he planned to meet with Toomey on the background checks bill, but would not reintroduce it without significant GOP support, which he said “ain’t going to happen unless the president gives his stamp of approval.”
President Donald Trump visited Las Vegas on Wednesday but said “We’re not going to talk about that today” when asked about gun issues.
The post Senior Republicans weigh bump stock ban after Las Vegas shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
The wildfires that tore through over a million acres of Montana this year damaged homes, cloaked communities in smoke, and burned a hole in the state budget.
With winter snow already falling, Montana’s blazes mostly have subsided. But the state now faces a $200 million budget shortfall exacerbated by the record cost of fighting wildfires, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said in an early September statement explaining the crisis. “We are also facing the most expensive fire season in state history, requiring spending of over $60 million to date.”
State and federal lawmakers across the country are looking back on a record fire season and asking whether there’s a way to better prepare financially for major wildfires. The federal government spent more than $2 billion on fires from Florida to Washington this year. States spend untold millions more.
As the wildfire season lengthens and the fires become larger and more dangerous — a trend driven by a number of factors, including climate change — both state and federal natural resource departments are spending more time and money on firefighting and less on other forest management programs that help the land recover after wildfires, or lessen the impact of future fires.
Western states typically spend less than 1 percent of their general fund each year on wildfire suppression, according to a University of Idaho research group that advises the state Legislature. When fires are severe, budgets are tight or both, the share can spike above 2 percent.
Such percentages seem small but can still have a big impact, said lead author Dennis Becker, an associate professor in the department of natural resources and director of the policy research group.
In states with small tax bases such as Montana, expensive fires in a tight budget year can wipe out reserve funds and escalate a fiscal crisis.
Paying to Put Out Fires
Each state pays for wildland firefighting slightly differently. Lawmakers in many wildfire-prone states set aside part of their general fund each year for fighting fires. Programs in Oregon and Washington are partly funded by taxing timber companies and other forest landowners, for instance. Most states also set aside pools of money to pay for natural disasters and other emergencies.
But sometimes that extra money doesn’t go far enough. Then it’s up to lawmakers to figure out how to cover the extra cost.
“When there’s an emergency, the money gets found, someway, somehow,” said Mike Morgan, the director of the division of fire prevention and control at the Colorado Department of Public Safety. In Colorado, most counties pay into a wildfire suppression fund that generates about a million dollars a year, he said. The money runs out quickly. “Some of these big fires can [cost] a million dollars a day,” he said.
One of the biggest fires in Colorado’s recent history, the Waldo Canyon fire, burned near Colorado Springs in 2012 for 17 days and cost over $16.6 million to suppress, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a multiagency organization that helps coordinate wildfire suppression operations.
When Colorado’s wildfire suppression fund is exhausted, the governor declares a state of emergency and state lawmakers scramble to find more money. They often end up taking money away from the capital budget used to pay for maintenance projects, Morgan said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
It can take months to tally the cost of a bad fire season.
The federal government typically pays to put out fires on federal land, and states pay to put out wildfires on state and private land. But fires often straddle property boundaries. And when a fire starts, the fire crew closest to it will rush to the scene regardless of jurisdiction.
To complicate matters, a dangerous blaze that threatens homes, roads, reservoirs and other infrastructure can involve local and state firefighters, firefighters from other states, and state or federal equipment such as bulldozers and air tankers.
“It’s like an instant army that shows up,” said Gary Schiff, policy director for the National Association of State Foresters, a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit comprised of the directors of state forestry agencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse states for three-quarters of the cost of putting out fires that threaten lives and critical infrastructure. But some fires are too rural or remote to qualify. States also spend a lot of time and money putting out smaller, less dangerous fires.
Reimbursement from the federal government and other entities typically covers a fraction of a state’s spending on fire suppression, Becker’s study found. In 2015, an extreme fire year, the nine states his team studied collectively spent $1.8 billion to fight wildfires. They were reimbursed by the federal government and other payers — such as other state and local agencies — for nearly $300 million.
‘Up in Smoke’
Montana used to pay for wildfires after they happened. A few bad fire years in the 2000s made that strategy untenable. In 2007 the state created a wildfire suppression fund which currently receives revenue from surplus money found in state agency budgets and the governor’s emergency appropriations.
State Sen. Pat Connell, a Republican who helped craft the current funding mechanism, said it has worked well every year — until this one.
Montana came into 2017 facing a budget shortfall due to lower-than-expected revenue from taxes, fees and mineral royalties. Legislators passed legislation in May that authorized the state to withdraw $30 million from the wildfire suppression fund if the revenue situation didn’t improve.
The money was withdrawn in July, leaving just over $30 million to pay for fighting fires. “That $30 million went up in smoke,” Connell said.
He said FEMA will help cover the cost of six of this year’s major fires in Montana, but it’s unclear what that will mean for the state’s bottom line and when the federal money will arrive.
In Oklahoma, an ongoing budget crisis has squeezed the state’s Forestry Services Division and driven up the cost of fighting fires.
Years of budget cuts have whittled the division down to 130 people, including administrators, at a time when the state is seeing more frequent major fires, said George Geissler, the Oklahoma state forester. “We do not have the capacity, within our state, with our own personnel, to fight these fires.”
He said he’s become more dependent on expensive out-of-state resources and on tapping the state’s emergency fund. After a major fire, his team waits for the invoices to trickle in with their fingers crossed. “We’ve come very close to thinking — how are we going to make payroll?” he said.
In Oregon, state lawmakers will have to find an additional $12 million to cover the cost of fighting large wildfires this year, according to Amy Patrick, director of forest protection for the Oregon Forest and Industries Council, a trade association.
Such an additional appropriation is unusual in Oregon, which has bought catastrophic wildfire insurance from Lloyd’s of London almost every year since the 1970s. It’s the only state that uses insurance to help pay for wildfire suppression.
Oregon’s premiums and deductible have risen along with its fire risk, however. This year the state spent $38 million on large wildfires, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry — more than the $20 million it budgets for such fires but not enough to hit its $50 million deductible. The state expects about $6 million in reimbursements.
As fires get worse, states need some kind of cushion to protect themselves from a costly year, Becker said, whether that’s an emergency fund, an insurance policy or another mechanism.
In Idaho, state forester David Groeschl said his department hired an outside contractor to take a close look at its budget and make recommendations for improving the way the state pays for fighting wildfires.
“It’s something that everybody’s taking a look at right now,” he said. “How do you do this without breaking the bank?”
Connell said he still thinks Montana’s wildfire suppression fund is a good solution to the state’s wildfire budgeting problem. But now the fund is empty, and he’s not sure his colleagues in the Legislature will be eager to make a one-time appropriation to fill it back up. “There is no money in the till for 2018,” he said. “It will be problematic.”
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WASHINGTON — Students who attended for-profit colleges were twice as likely or more to default on their loans than students who attended public educational institutions, according to a federal study published Wednesday.
The report by the National Center of Education Statistics looks at students who began their undergraduate education in 2003 and defaulted on at least one loan over the next 12 years. Fifty-two percent of the students who attended for-profit schools defaulted on their loan. That’s compared to 17 percent for those who attended a four-year public institution and 26 percent at community college.
The report also finds that the for-profit students defaulted on their federal student loans in greater numbers than their predecessors eight years before.
The report comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rewrites rules that had been put in place by the Obama administration to protect students who said they were defrauded by their for-profit colleges.
The study also found that this group of students is defaulting on their federal student loans in greater numbers than their predecessors eight years before.
Of the students who started college in 2003, 27 percent had defaulted on at least one loan after 12 years, the study found. For those who started their undergraduate education in 1995, the default rate was 18 percent. The rate of full repayment was 20 percent in the younger group, compared to 24 in the older group.
Robert Kelchen, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, suggested that the higher rate among the 2003 freshmen might be due to them entering the labor market at the height of the Great Recession.
Default rates were higher for those students who never completed their education, the study said. “Degree completion is a key component of a student’s ability to repay their loan,” said Joshua Goodman, a professor of public policy at Harvard University. “Simply attending college without completion doesn’t really pay off.”
Among borrowers in the 2003 group, the median amount owed after 12 years was $3,700 for those who earned undergraduate certificates, $11,700 for students getting associate’s degrees and $13,800 for bachelor’s degrees or higher.
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After back-to-back congressional hearings before senators on Wednesday, former Equifax CEO Richard Smith will testify again Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee over the credit reporting agency’s massive data breach.
Smith will field questions over the Equifax hack from the House Financial Services Committee starting at 9:15 a.m. ET. Watch the hearing in the player above.
Thursday’s hearing will be the fourth and final scheduled back-and-forths between outraged lawmakers and the retired chief executive for Equifax, who announced last month a hack that, as of this week, has affected an estimated 145.5 million consumers.
Congress has questioned Smith, who recently stepped down after 12 years in his role at Equifax, on more information on how the breach happened, why it took so long for the company to publicly disclose the hack, and the dubious timing of Equifax’s IRS contract. No other current Equifax employees were formally questioned in the hearings.
Beyond lawmakers’ ire over the breach, another constant of the hearings has been Smith’s frequent apologies, including for the company’s botched response to help their customers understand what had happened and how it handled the hack itself.
“I regret the frustration that many Americans felt when our websites and call centers were overwhelmed in the early weeks. It’s no excuse, but it certainly did not help that two of our larger call centers were shut down for days by Hurricane Irma,” Smith said during Monday’s hearing.
Several lawmakers questioned why consumers would trust Equifax now, with the $7.5 million no-bid contract with the Internal Revenue Service being a particular point on contention.
By The Wall Street Journal’s count, there are at least eight bills that urge stricter regulations over credit reporting agencies. It’s not clear whether Congress will push any of those through.
But a Republican-controlled Congress makes the outlook for new regulations isn’t good, the Associated Press pointed out.
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Members of Congress are scheduled to deliver a news briefing Thursday, the deadline for undocumented immigrants to submit their application to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Watch the press briefing live at 10 a.m. ET in the video player above.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.-D) and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.-D) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.-D) are slated at 10 a.m. ET to address the uncertainty that hovers over the DACA program, which protects about 800,000 people from deportation. President Donald Trump has called the program “unconstitutional” and his administration has revealed places to dismantle the protection put in place in 2012 by the Obama administration.
Most Americans think “dreamers,” who entered the United States as children and remained as undocumented immigrants, and their parents should be allowed to stay in the United States, according to a recent poll from PBS NewsHour and Marist. A majority of U.S. adults — 58 percent — think dreamers should be granted citizenship, and another quarter of Americans said dreamers should be allowed to stay as legal residents.
And three-quarters of Americans said the parents of DACA recipients should be allowed to stay in the United States. Of those, 41 percent of respondents said these parents should be naturalized as citizens.
A Senate committee will assess the federal response to the nation’s opioid crisis during a hearing Thursday.
Watch the full hearing live in the video player above.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. ET to discuss how well the federal government has responded to a mounting public health crisis. Witness testimony will include comments from National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Debra Houry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Elinore F. McCance-Katz of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Nationwide, two-thirds of U.S. adults said they think the opioid crisis is worse than it was a year ago, according to a new poll from PBS NewsHour and Marist. And a third of Americans foresee a continued decline in this problem a year from now. Another 43 percent of Americans said they predict no change.
READ MORE: Poll: Most Americans think Trump hasn’t done enough to fix opioid crisis
In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans fatally overdosed on drugs, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And President Donald Trump’s opioid commission recommended that he declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, something he said he would announce but has not yet.
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LAS VEGAS — In the days and months before he mowed down concertgoers from his high-rise hotel suite, gunman Stephen Paddock rented rooms overlooking two other music festivals in Las Vegas and Chicago, authorities said.
They gave no details on what his intentions might have been.
The disclosures came as investigators struggled for a fourth day to explain what led the 64-year-old high-stakes gambler to open fire Sunday night on an open-air country music festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel casino. He killed 58 people and injured more than 500 before taking his own life.
Authorities have been trying to track Paddock’s movements in the days and weeks before the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
In August, Paddock booked a room at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel that overlooked the park where the Lollapalooza music festival was held that weekend, a law enforcement official said Thursday.
The official said no evidence has been found that Paddock ever came to Chicago that weekend. Lollapalooza draws hundreds of thousands of music fans every year to Grant Park.
The official was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed on the investigation. Paddock’s booking of the hotel room was first reported by TMZ.
Also, the weekend before the Las Vegas bloodbath, Paddock had rented a high-rise condo in a Las Vegas building that overlooked the Life is Beautiful alternative music festival, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said Tuesday.
He offered no other details about what led Paddock there. The music festival featured Chance the Rapper, Muse, Lorde and Blink-182.
When Paddock checked into the Mandalay Bay on Sept. 28, he specifically requested an upper-floor room with a view of the Route 91 Harvest music festival, according to a person who has seen hotel records turned over to investigators and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Investigators trying to establish the motive for the attack have had little more to chase than hints and shadows.
Where other mass killers have left behind a trail of plain-sight clues that help investigators quickly understand what drove them to violence, Paddock led a low-key, private life. He had no known criminal record and almost no close friends, social media presence or other clear connections to the broader world.
The No. 2 official in the FBI said Wednesday he was surprised investigators had not uncovered more.
“There’s all kinds of things that surprise us in each one of these events. That’s the one in this one, and we are not there yet,” FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Investigators have zeroed in on a weapon-buying binge Paddock went on in the year before the attack. They wonder if he had some sort of mental break at the time that drove him to start making plans for mass murder.
They are also looking at his gambling habits and checking records for any disputes he might have had with casinos or fellow patrons.
On Wednesday, FBI agents trying to understand his state of mind questioned his girlfriend, 62-year-old Marilou Danley, who was out of the country during the attack. She was visiting her native Philippines.
She said she had no inkling of his murderous plans.
“He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen,” she said in a statement read by her lawyer.
Gurman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Don Babwin in Chicago; Brian Melley and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles, Regina Garcia Cano and Michelle Price in Las Vegas; Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Philippines; and Richard Lardner, Eric Tucker and Tami Abdollah in Washington contributed to this report.
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The Justice Department is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s moves to curtail military service by transgender people.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight transgender individuals. They include service members in the Air Force, Coast Guard and Army, and students in the Naval Academy and the ROTC program at the University of New Haven.
Trump tweeted in July that the government “will not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. That would reverse a 2016 policy change. Trump subsequently directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military. He gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to create a policy dealing with those currently serving.
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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a news briefing today. Watch her remarks in the player above.
The House passed a $4.1 trillion budget plan, one the chamber’s Republicans hope to create a pathway for their tax code overhaul later this year.
As the Associated Press has noted, the plan focuses on more than $5 million in cuts over the next decade that target federal entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. “But Republicans are not actually planning to impose any of those cuts with follow-up legislation that would be required under Washington’s Byzantine budget rules,” AP reported.
The ultimate goal here is the party’s goal of rewriting the tax code, with the House’s plan eventually being reconciled with the Senate’s own version of a budget plan. However, Democrats warn that the GOP’s plans would mean deep cuts to the social safety net in the future.
President Donald Trump applauded the House passing its plan today, with the White House releasing a statement today that said the move was a “key step” in setting the stage for lawmakers to “fix our rigged and burdensome tax code,” among other things.
On Wednesday, Trump visited Las Vegas days after a gunman killed 59 people and injured scores of others during an overnight outdoor concert. Since then, investigators have been working toward a greater understanding of how the attack was planned, who the suspect was, and whether anyone else was involved. Sunday’s attack has also resurfaced the debate over stricter gun control measures after it was revealed that the gunman modified his weapons with a “bump stock” that allowed it discharge more quickly.
PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.
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Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retired accountant who went on a shooting rampage, had stockpiled in his hotel room at least 23 firearms, as well as two bump stocks, which are used to modify weapons and make them fully automatic. William Brangham explains how these modifications work and how they get around the law.
WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association says the “bump stocks” device that the Las Vegas shooter used to turn semi-automatic rifles into fully automated weapons should be “subject to additional regulations.”
In a statement on Thursday, the NRA says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.
The organization which holds a powerful sway over members of Congress dismissed some of the initial response from lawmakers who have pressed for more gun control.
Said the NRA: “Banning guns from law-abiding Americans based on the criminal act of a madman will do nothing to prevent future attacks.”
The statement came from NRA leaders Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox.
He sat in the doctor’s office in Naples, Florida, feeling drug sick. He thought that if this didn’t work, maybe nothing would.
Greg Frye’s drug use started in high school. First weed, then mushrooms, acid, cocaine. He wanted to live wild like Jim Morrison. Despite the drugs, he managed to stay on the football team and make good grades. He eventually dropped out of school, but got a job in real estate. He did well, making vice president by 25. For a long time, he held it together. Until the opioids.
His first taste was Percocet, a painkiller prescribed after he had his wisdom teeth taken out. It made him feel warm and fuzzy, like he had no problems in the world. Later he tried oxycodone, which led to other pills, then heroin. Soon, opioids “became my food,” Frye said. He began going to the bathroom every half hour at work to snort heroin and cocaine, thinking no one noticed.
Soon his life began to unravel. His fiancee had been using too, and injected him with a needle for the first time. Where before he had found her beautiful, her eyes now looked vacant and glazed. His friends began to overdose around him. The ones still alive were like “the walking dead.” It seemed that the entire town of Naples was on opioids.
Then in 2006, when he was 26, Frye went on a six-day bender with his brother and fiancé, and blacked out while driving. A priest found him passed out in a church parking lot, mid-injection, and called the cops. Frye was arrested, went through withdrawal in jail, was sent to rehab, came out, and started using again. He wanted to get clean. He had a three-year-old daughter, and he didn’t want her to grow up seeing him like this. He’d heard about a new medication, a semi-synthetic opioid, that was supposed to relieve withdrawal symptoms and get rid of cravings. It was called Subutex.
“I was just desperate for anything to get away from it,” Frye said. “Because I could get off drugs for a week, but then I’d start feeling like I wanted something, and would get somebody to come over, and then get right back on it again.”
Frye waited two hours in the doctor’s office that day. When he finally got in, the doctor prescribed him 8mg of Subutex, a small orange tablet in the shape of a stop sign. Afterward, as he sat in his car outside the office, he suddenly felt normal; the medication worked that fast. “All of a sudden it was just no more zombie. It was very even and I just felt like I should feel.”
Frye relapsed, but then started taking Subutex again, and it ultimately kept him clean. His ex-fiancée — the couple separated, as both fought addiction — died from drug-related sepsis and he became a single dad. Opioids change you, he said. But medication “opened the door for me to get away from that.”
Fighting drugs with drugs
As America’s opioid crisis deepens, millions are now on some form of medication-assisted treatment, including Subutex and its sister drug, Suboxone. The treatment, which combines medication with behavioral therapy, was described to PBS NewsHour by clinicians as the “gold standard” for treating opioid addiction.
For decades, methadone was the primary drug prescribed to help heroin addicts quit. It works by stimulating the brain’s opioid receptors, but the very thing that makes it work also leaves it open to abuse. Today, are other options.
There is the still-new, mostly unproven naltrexone, branded as Vivitrol, which works by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors and is prescribed as a monthly injection.
And there is Suboxone, a combination of two drugs, buprenorphrine and naloxone, which crowds out other opioids from the receptors, dampening euphoria and lessening withdrawal to curb cravings.
In 2016, after growing evidence to support the use of medication-assisted treatment, real government dollars were put behind it. First, in September 2016, the Obama administration announced $53 million in funding. And then in December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized $1 billion in funding over two years for state grants, the large part of it directed toward medication-assisted treatment.
Florida alone received more than $27 million from the Cures Act, with a focus on methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone) maintenance. The state is expected to receive another $27 million next year.
But as the number of opioid deaths rises, people in the treatment and recovery field remain sharply divided over whether medication is the best approach — and whether it should continue to receive the majority of government funds. While clinicians who spoke to the NewsHour said medication was the best option to improve survival rates, others in the recovery community see it as a crutch that doesn’t fix addiction long-term.
In May, that division came into focus when then-Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a West Virginia newspaper that he worried the medication was “just substituting one opioid for another.” After distraught practitioners and researchers signed a letter asking him to “set the record straight,” Price ultimately walked back those remarks.
America is at a juncture in the story of opioid treatment, with the next chapter likely to focus on how the funding is distributed, and how much of it will go to medication-assisted treatment. At the heart of that decision is an important but difficult question: is survival more important than sobriety, and at what cost?
How to deal with the crisis
Collier is a sunny southwestern Florida county of strip malls and palm trees, where pop music blasts from passing cars and sunshowers are a regular occurrence. It is a place that feels like summer year-round, but where former users in recovery say there’s not much to do. Not even in Naples, Collier’s best-known city. The county has also become a hotspot for opioids, which flooded in from Palm Beach, Dade and Broward counties, and elsewhere around the state.
Florida is unique for its large elderly population, which leads to a higher rate of prescriptions, and increases the number of opioids flowing through the state. It was also known for its “pill mills,” where unscrupulous doctors churned out prescriptions, until law enforcement shut many of them down.
The Collier County sheriff’s office said that after the mills were shut down, many people simply replaced pills with harder drugs on the street. The oxycodone addicts turned to heroin. More and more, the heroin was laced with fentanyl, among the most powerful opioids. “Poly use” increased, a term for people combining different drugs.
In 2015, the most recent year data is available, opioids directly caused the death of 2,538 Floridians; over the past few years in Collier County, heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone showed up again and again in medical examiner reports. When the Collier County sheriff’s office implemented a mapping system to track heroin overdoses, it found 47 in the county since April. Over the past year and a half, the Collier County EMS administered Narcan, a medication used to reverse overdoses, more than 400 times.
Video by Justin Scuiletti and Elizabeth Flock
How to deal with the crisis has become an increasingly pressing question in Collier. The county has had a drug-free coalition since 2005, meaning that local treatment centers, nonprofits, police, drug courts and others dealing in recovery work together. But those groups don’t always agree.
The David Lawrence Center in Naples, a 50-year-old public treatment facility, recently made the philosophical shift to embracing medication in treatment, after decades of practicing abstinence-based therapy.
Nancy Dauphinais, the center’s chief operating officer, compares the approach to earlier battles against AIDS. “When you look at how AIDS deaths skyrocketed and, from a logical point of view, how you address an epidemic, the first thing you do is you reduce mortality however you can,” she said. “Because if you can’t keep people alive, you can’t help them.”
Five miles south, at St. Matthew’s House, a faith-based nonprofit that runs a large recovery program, the approach is very different. At St. Matthew’s, as in Alcoholics Anonymous, they see the only solution as total abstinence, arguing that medication only hampers efforts to get clean.
“Ten or 20 years from now, they’re going to look at this as the Dark Ages of rehab, because people have bought into the line that the only way to deal with this is to keep these people on medication,” said Vann Ellison, the president and CEO of St. Matthew’s House. “But we’ve known for decades that getting them off mood-altering chemicals leads to a productive, healthy and independent life. I mean, just listen to our guys.”
‘Listen to our guys’
Study after study that shows that medication is effective in treating opioid addiction, but many opioid users are resistant. In Justin’s Place — the recovery program at St. Matthew’s House — not a single former user who spoke to the NewsHour felt positively about using drugs to get off drugs.
Most saw it as a crutch, one that distracted from their efforts to get clean. Almost all said they had diverted it, meaning they either used a medication like Suboxone on the street to get high, often in combination with other drugs, or they used it to avoid withdrawals, or they sold it to someone else to buy drugs.
Justin’s Place preaches the abstinence-based model to the people it serves. It also practices a philosophy Ellison said he took from the late C. Everett Koop, the U.S. surgeon general who served during the AIDS crisis and the crack cocaine epidemic. “They asked him what would it take to really guarantee people that we have good success” with addicts, Ellison said. “And he said we need to isolate them on an island for years to give them a chance of staying sober.”
Justin’s Place is a year-long program (instead of 28 days, like many other rehab programs), with the option to stay longer. In its men’s program, at least six months of that time is spent at an inn in largely rural LaBelle, Florida, an hour and a half from Naples, and away from other drug users, dealers, and the pressures of daily life. During that time, the men go through the “12 steps” (a recovery program adopted from Alcoholics Anonymous), as well as go to church and work with peer mentors. They also help operate the inn, which is open to the public, and whose grounds include a volleyball court, a pool, and a river on 47 quiet acres. It feels a bit like summer camp, and also a bit like living on an island.
At a recent dinner at Justin’s Place, a meal to which the men are required to wear dress clothes, they took turns giving affirmations over their fettucine alfredo. They said they were grateful for their sobriety, for the meal, for sober fun, for “all y’all” (“all y’all!” the room calls back) – and for “spreading the news that there is no life on Suboxone or blues,” blues being slang for the opioid Roxicodone. For these men, taking Suboxone or doing any maintenance therapy with medication feels too much like taking opioids.
(It has also not escaped the men’s attention that Suboxone’s maker is accused by 35 states, including Florida, of violating antitrust laws to create a monopoly over its drug; to them this feels like the abuses of the pharmaceutical companies that helped create the opioid mess.)
Earlier that day, in a group session, Joe Garcia, who grew up in Naples and said he had “gotten mixed up with the wrong people,” told the story of his addiction to other members of his small group in the program. It began after his parents both died when he was young and ended with him using a needle to shoot up Suboxone.
“That was the end of the run for me,” he said. “By 23, I had spent three of my birthdays in jail, eating Honey Bun birthday cakes… Then in jail a guy told me I looked like a good kid. He said he had heard about Justin’s Place. My family didn’t want to talk to me then. So I got out my Bible. I had to have some kind of plan to better my life.”
After several months at Justin’s Place, he now had plans to go to barber school. “I’m tired of being that loser that nobody wants to see. This is a small testimony of my life.” Everybody in the room applauded.
Afterward, the men talked about Suboxone, how many of them had used it on the street like Garcia, or how, when taking it in combination with benzodiazepines, a depressant, it made you feel “robbed out of your mind.” How they made lots of money selling it. How when they stopped taking it they got bad withdrawal symptoms: diarrhea, sweating, the feeling that your skin had bugs on it. How it blocked you from wanting to take opioids but didn’t prevent you from using drugs.
(Clinicians say people are less likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if tapered off Suboxone slowly, with the advice of a doctor. But many acknowledge the Suboxone diversion problem, and that the medication does not block a desire to take non-opioid drugs.)
“If I want to get high, I’m a drug addict, that’s not going to stop me from using crack, meth,” said Greg Hansen, from Port Charlotte, Florida, who was addicted to Dilaudids and Xanax before Justin’s Place. Or from using benzos or coke, other men said.
St. Matthew’s claims to have a 90 percent success rate for those who make it through its recovery program, but many never get to that point. That week, seven people had relapsed in their independent living apartments in Naples, the program’s next step after living in LaBelle.
And Garcia said 12 of the 13 people in his initial small group hadn’t made it. But for those who would complete the program, said Ellison, they’d live a life truly independent of drugs.
The session closed with one man saying that after getting clean at Justin’s Place, he could finally remember his dreams. Another said he could now read books. He had worried his brain was permanently fried.
After the session, Ellison said that his resistance to medication in treatment stretched back to his time working at a Naples treatment facility, “where you’d see doctors prescribing people medications, and they’re leaving more impaired than they came in.”
His years at St. Matthew’s had only solidified that belief. Many users who come to Justin’s Place have already detoxed elsewhere — either in jail, going cold turkey, or at a treatment center, often with the help of a medication like Suboxone. But once they come to Justin’s Place for recovery, they must be off all medication, or they are not allowed in.
“We’re not opposed to medications in detox. We’re opposed to keeping, or maintaining, drug addicts on mood-altering drugs,” said Ellison, who claimed one former user who came to Justin’s Place on Suboxone could barely stay awake over his coffee, despite taking his medication as prescribed.
First, save lives
The David Lawrence treatment center isn’t the first in Collier County to make the shift to medication-assisted treatment. The center is following in the footsteps of places like Hazelden Betty Ford, the nationally-renowned treatment organization, which has a location in Naples, and which made the shift in 2012 after years of espousing an abstinence-based approach.
When it became clear that the opioid addiction problem was becoming an epidemic, “That changed the game,” said Brenda Iliff, the executive director of Hazelden in Naples. “We had to bring in different tools.”
The shift cost them some supporters, but not as many as expected. “I think it’s because of the calamity of the opioid epidemic. People are dying… You sit in front of a mom whose kid died, and you’re going to do anything you can to prevent the next one.”
In 2015, the David Lawrence Center made the same calculation, when it had the opportunity to participate in a statewide initiative to look at Vivitrol.
For decades, the center had taken an holistic, abstinence-based approach. It viewed addiction not only as a biological and psychosocial disease, but a spiritual one. It talked of engaging the body, heart, head and soul to help people heal. The center’s defining physical feature, a sprawling banyan tree out front, was planted to give visitors a sense of serenity and peace.
But with 91 Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses — 10 of them a day in Florida — the center decided it was time to try something different. Dauphinais said she was convinced to make the change after studying how retroviral therapy had stemmed deaths from AIDS.
“That was the turning point for me where I really said, ‘OK I need to be open to [this] treatment,’” she said. She knew that the available medications weren’t perfect, but decided that “we have to save people’s lives first and then work with them to get to the quality of life that they want [later].”
When David Lawrence began its Vivitrol pilot, she said, participants were wary. But the center worked hard to educate people about the medication’s benefits and drawbacks. And a year later, David Lawrence got another big funding boost for medication from the 21st Century Cures Act, with $333,883 to use from April 2017-2018 for anyone treated with methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone) or naltrexone (Vivitrol).
Some of this state and federal funding for medication may have come as a result of aggressive lobbying by Vivitrol’s maker, but Dauphinais said this mostly does not bother her. For a public health center that is often badly strapped for cash, the Cures Act was a much-needed infusion. Especially in a state that ranks almost last nationwide in mental health services funding, and whose lawmakers were unaware when they recently lost $20 million in federal funding to combat the opioid crisis. (A month later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed $50 million for the crisis.)
As a result of the Cures Act funding, the center is now able to make another big shift: from only prescribing Suboxone short-term, for detox, to also prescribing it on an outpatient, long-term basis, as maintenance therapy. Dauphinais hopes to get its first participant in the next 30 days.
As to the risks that the drug will be abused by outpatients, she said, “it’s better to have to deal with a diversion problem than a death problem.” New studies, she argued, show maintenance therapy can be more effective than just giving people medication in detox. But she also acknowledged that the longer people were prescribed Suboxone, the harder it might be to get off it.
“I hear and believe it is extremely difficult to come off of Suboxone long-term,” she said. “We hope that there will be a better solution to that. But again, what is the goal? The goal is to reduce mortality.”
Where the dollars go
Five years after being prescribed Subutex, Greg Frye decided it was time to stop taking it.
He was 40 now, and felt ready to be free of a drug that had been a “necessary evil,” an evil that he could now shuck off. He couldn’t wait to travel without the fear of losing his prescription. He couldn’t wait to feel that there were no drugs in his system at all.
But he was also worried, because he remembered what happened the previous time he stopped taking Subutex, that it felt like he was “in a furnace with the flu.” That he couldn’t sleep for months. He was nervous to taper, even under the supervision of his doctor. It made him question whether he should have been on medication all these years. Maybe he could have come off sooner. Maybe he could have taken a smaller dose.
After all, he told himself, it wasn’t really the Subutex that did it. It was wanting to get clean. It was facing life “with all its problems,” and finding things beyond himself — God, his daughter, his future.
But he also knew that it was easier in hindsight to imagine he could have done it alone.
“If I never took [medication] what would have happened to me?” he said. “I wouldn’t have made it I don’t think.”
It’s these questions about the use of medication in treatment that keep Judge Janeice Martin up at night. Martin runs Collier County Drug Court, just down the road from Frye, where she’s watched hundreds get clean and graduate, and hundreds drop out. She’s also watched state and federal dollars get funneled toward medication, at the exclusion of other services that she’s seen work in her court.
Drug courts seek to keep nonviolent offenders out of jail, with varying rates of success. Martin’s court has a success rate of about 50/50.
Martin is a second-generation drug court judge; her father mostly dealt with alcohol and cocaine abuse in his court, instead of prescription drugs. Since Martin took over the court in 2011, the program has been tweaked several times, to be less punitive, to be more therapeutic — and to consider how medication fits in.
Collier County Drug Court partners with David Lawrence to provide medication to those who want it, but Martin said it is rare that someone opts in. Participants in her court, she said, see it much the same as the former users at St. Matthew’s House: “as a tether, and their quest is to cut all tethers.”
Martin is also careful to never push medication in her court, she said, because she is not a doctor, and because the science is changing fast. She has also never seen medication work on its own, without therapy, which is why all the 21st Century Cures Act funding for medication scares her.
“So far, the dollars have me a little bit worried that we’re going to be seeing medically-assisted treatment in a vacuum,” she said, “without also going to clinicians who can perform the necessary treatment to accompany that.”
A drug court grant from the Justice Department for which David Lawrence recently applied also includes a stipulation about medication in treatment.
On a recent Tuesday in Martin’s drug court, former opioid user Nicholas Potter graduated in front of the judge and other drug court participants: a prosecutor, public defender, probation officer, case manager, and clinician from David Lawrence. As he stood somberly in the heavily air-conditioned, windowless room before the court’s official seal, Martin praised Potter for the positive attitude he brought to therapy. “It has not always been easy,” she said, and he nodded.
“But when you just tell someone about your problems it helps,” he said, adding that detox got him off drugs, but it was group therapy and AA sessions that turned his life around. “Today I will not pick up or use.”
For Potter and many like him, Martin believed, medication alone would have fallen far short. Meanwhile, the second round of funding from the Cures Act has yet to be dispensed; in a recent statement, former HHS head Price said they were taking time to decide where the money would be allocated to “remain responsive to this evolving epidemic.”
Martin hoped that more funding would be put toward trained counselors, beds in inpatient and outpatient facilities, and safe living spaces for recovering addicts.
“Those are the resources that I see bearing the most fruit over the long haul,” she said. “And we need an awful lot more of them if we’re going to get our arms around this issue.”
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A quarter of Americans — 28 percent — said they want to repeal Obamacare completely, according to a poll by PBS NewsHour and Marist.
Forty-three percent of respondents said they want more from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while only 6 percent said they wanted Obamacare to do less. Another 18 percent of Americans said they want to keep Obamacare as is.
Respondents were sharply divided by party affiliation. Two-thirds of Republican respondents said they want to get rid of Obamacare altogether, compared to 5 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of people who identified as politically independent who felt the same.
And these opinions remained largely unmoved since February, according to previous Marist polls.
This comes after a summer of political haggling led by Senate and House Republicans failed to produce enough votes to dismantle Obamacare, despite multiple attempts. Many Republicans in Congress built their 2016 election campaigns on a commitment to undo the Affordable Care Act.
Three-quarters of Americans — 78 percent — said they disapproved of how Congress has handled health care so far. Only 11 percent of respondents said they approved of Congress’ performance on this issue, and another 10 percent said they were unsure of how they felt.
That dissatisfaction resonated across political parties with widespread disapproval among Democrats (92 percent), people who are politically independent (80 percent) and even Republicans (67 percent).
Disapproval among Americans about how Congress has performed on health care grew substantially since June when two-thirds of U.S. adults said they weren’t happy with Congressional action on health care reform, according to a poll from PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist.
The PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll contacted 1,105 U.S. adults using landline and mobile phones between September 25 and September 27. There is a 2.9 percent margin of error.
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Japanese-British novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro has won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The Swedish Academy announced the award Thursday, calling Ishiguro a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”
Ishiguro is best known for his novel “The Remains of the Day,” which was awarded The Man Booker Prize for fiction in 1989. The novel follows an obedient butler serving a lord in pre-World War II England. It was turned into an eight-time Academy-Award nominated film in 1993.
The novel deals with a number of literary themes, including self-deception–a recurring subject in Ishiguro’s works. Ishiguro has written eight books, the most recent of which, “The Buried Giant”, was released in 2015. He is also the author of a number of screenplays and short stories. His work has been translated into over 40 languages.
Ishiguro told reporters the announcement was “amazing and totally unexpected news.”
“I just hope that my receiving this huge honour will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for goodwill and peace at this time,” he added.
The themes 2017 Literature Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is most associated with are: memory, time, and self-delusion. #NobelPrize
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 5, 2017
Ishiguro was born in Japan and moved to England when he was five. His first two novels, “A Pale View of Hills” and “An Artist of the Floating World” are set in Nagasaki after World War II.
WASHINGTON — GOP Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, caught up in tawdry revelations of an extramarital affair, is resigning from Congress.
That’s the word from House Speaker Paul Ryan. Murphy, an anti-abortion lawmaker, allegedly urged his mistress to get an abortion when he thought she was pregnant.
Ryan says Murphy has sent him a letter announcing his resignation, effective Oct. 21.
Ryan says the decision was Murphy’s but he supports “Murphy’s decision to move on to the next chapter of his life.”
Murphy is serving his eighth term representing a district in southwestern Pennsylvania, including parts of suburban Pittsburgh. The district is a safe Republican seat, with Republican Donald Trump beating Democrat Hillary Clinton by a margin of three-to-two in last November’s presidential election.
The post GOP Rep. Murphy resigning after reports of affair, Ryan says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s note: As part of the NewsHour’s series on the opioid epidemic, I went to eastern Ohio and interviewed three former addicts who are trying to work their back into society — and into the workforce. The interviewees were so candid and revealing that they deserve more time than a few soundbites in a broadcast story.
The broadcast segment will run tonight on the NewsHour. Here’s the first of the interviews (you can watch it here or in the video below), with a woman named Donna Dibo, who is participating in a jobs training program for ex-addicts in Youngstown, Ohio. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
PAUL SOLMAN: Why are so many kids using drugs? Just to experiment because that’s the nature of being a kid?
DONNA DIBO A lot of kids grow up in the homes where there’s alcohol and drugs and it’s hard to be the odd one out and say, “I’m not going to do this.” For me, it was just normal. It was the everyday thing.
PAUL SOLMAN: How much of a factor is boredom in taking drugs, whatever the drugs are? You’re just bored and it’s something to do.
DONNA DIBO: I do believe that that does play a factor. I wouldn’t say a big factor, like not even 50 percent, but around 20-25 percent.
PAUL SOLMAN: If that’s 20 or 25 percent, what’s the 75 percent, or the biggest factor?
DONNA DIBO: For me, the longest time, it was the thrill of it. The hunt. Of course, getting high, that was the thing. Then it starts to tire you down after a while, the running, the chasing, just all of it.
PAUL SOLMAN: It’s exciting at first because it’s subversive?
DONNA DIBO: Absolutely. Yeah, you meet new people. You think they’re cool, and, “I want to do what they’re doing.” Oh, yeah.
PAUL SOLMAN: The high is worth the wait?
DONNA DIBO: Yeah. In the beginning, it is, but then after that, it’s not so much. It’s like you’re chasing to get back to that point that you can’t get to.
I was in a bad car accident when I was pregnant with my daughter 17 years ago, and she was okay thankfully. However, after I delivered her, my back was real bad. They put me in for an MRI, and [found that] the fourth, fifth, and sixth vertebra were bulging. I had two that were herniated. It was just really bad, so they started the epidurals on me, then the nerve blocks when they didn’t work, and throughout that process, that’s how the pills came into my life.
I was in pain so much, and in the beginning when I was taking those pills, I didn’t have pain anymore, so then I would overdo it, just cleaning, going to work, whatever it was. Then, when they started to wear off, right back to that point. Then, once that happens for a while, you start to build up a tolerance, so then you need another one. Then another one. That’s how it happened for me.
When I had to take them for my back, I didn’t even really like them at first. I was getting sick off them, [so] then the doctor just switched the kind. I went from Vicodin to Percocet. Then, I was okay with them. My body reacted okay to them. Once I started, I just… It was very hard to stop.
[The doctor] was just writing and writing and writing [prescriptions]. You can go in there and tell him, “I can’t get out of bed in the morning.” He’s going to give you a script for 120. That’s just how it was. When I went in there and told him, “Okay, one four times a day isn’t doing much for me anymore,” then that’s when he doubled it. It was that easy. Then I started to learn how to talk to doctors after that, and what to say to seek them out. That’s what I was doing.
PAUL SOLMAN: Were you working during this time, after your car accident?
DONNA DIBO: Yes. Waitressing. I love people. I’m a people person, so I loved to waitress.
PAUL SOLMAN: But it’s hard work, particularly if you have a back problem.
DONNA DIBO: It is. It is, but when you have four or five pills at once, you’re pretty much okay after that, until you start to come down off of it, and then you take more. That’s pretty much how it works.
PAUL SOLMAN: Did you have to give up waitressing?
DONNA DIBO: Yes. I did. That was one of six jobs, actually, that I’ve given up due to addiction. I was coming in late for work, sometimes I was calling off. I would not show up, or if I did show up, it was just a matter of I couldn’t focus. I was getting the orders wrong for people.
PAUL SOLMAN: How long have you been out of the workforce?
DONNA DIBO: I’ve been out of work for about seven years.
PAUL SOLMAN: [When you were working], you were spending everything you get as a waitress on your habit. What was happening to your kids?
DONNA DIBO: Not just my income. My husband’s income as well. It got to the point to where he had to literally sit me down and say, ‘Your name has to come off the bank account. That’s just the bottom line.’ Of course, I was angry and mad, because I was so caught up in my addiction, I thought he was the bad guy, but in all reality, he had to do that, because I was taking literally everything away from him and our children.
PAUL SOLMAN: It must’ve been hard in the beginning, wasn’t it, to talk about this stuff?
DONNA DIBO: Yes. It’s hard to say, ‘Listen. You know that cell phone you just had? No one stole it. I stole it.’
PAUL SOLMAN: You stole it from your daughter and sold it?
DONNA DIBO: Absolutely.
PAUL SOLMAN: How much did you get for it?
DONNA DIBO: About 100 bucks. You never get what it’s really worth when you’re dealing with drug dealers. And Sears, I’m no longer allowed on their property. I stole so much from them, I probably own their store to be honest. I would boost. That’s what we called it, boosting. I would go into all the stores. My trunk and my backseat would be full with everything. I would just sell it to people everywhere. I did that for a couple years.
PAUL SOLMAN: Really? How do you get away with it?
DONNA DIBO: You just got to know where the cameras are. I talk. I’m a talker, so in all reality, I would go ask them where it was, and I was going to steal it the whole time, but I do believe, if you talk to people, if you go in there and you just look suspicious, they’re going to know what you’re doing. I just came up with this brilliant plan to just talk to them, “Hey, how you doing? How’s your day? Blah, blah, blah,” and right out the door with everything.
PAUL SOLMAN: But you finally got caught?
DONNA DIBO: Yeah. Sure did. I was being greedy.
PAUL SOLMAN: What’s the greediest?
DONNA DIBO: The comforter sets, or you know,
PAUL SOLMAN: The comforter sets?
DONNA DIBO: Walking right out the door like I bought them. Absolutely. The shoes, the boots, I had 20 pair of boots that I bought for my husband. He thought I bought them. I did not buy them. I just walked right out the store with them. I don’t know what it is. It’s just I had a knack for it.
PAUL SOLMAN: [Eventually], did you switch from pills to heroin because heroin was easier to get, more affordable?
DONNA DIBO: That is one of the main reasons why I switched to heroin, but in all reality, honestly, it was easier. I hate to say that, but there was so many heroin dealers. It was just more convenient. I’ve gone through being sick from pills, from not having pills, and the sickness is nothing compared to not having heroin. It is nothing. Your body just… it’s like you stood in line and let a football player just ram you without any padding. It is like a job itself, actually. It is.
PAUL SOLMAN: Just trying to find that day’s drugs?
DONNA DIBO: Yes. Then, once that day is over, your mind’s already going 1,000 times a minute thinking, ‘What am I going to do for the next day?’ [Looking for drugs] is a full time job.
The post ‘Boosting’ to support her habit — one woman’s nightmare appeared first on PBS NewsHour.